Remember that time I bragged about having a crazily speedy recovery from surgery. Um, yeah…. Last night reminded my why some people prefer not to have a fist-sized organ removed out a hole near their hip: a laparoscopic cut is a scar by any other name, and surgery is not quite the delightful pastime I may have made it seem in the previous post. Weird, right?
The difference a few hours made was extraordinary. At 3 PM, yesterday, I walked down from my hospital room to wait outside for my mom to bring her car around. Standing around for five minutes, the only discomfort I felt was a regular twinge of pain on my left side if I tried to stand straight. My mom dropped me off in front of my building; I took the elevator four floors up to my apartment, but if I had wanted to really push myself, I could have taken the stairs. I had taken one percocet an hour before; the last painkillers I’d taken previously had been at 6:30 AM (there were two hours at the hospital when I wasn’t even on painkillers. At 2, I’d just decided, why not?).
Fast forward to last night at 8:00 PM, when each trip to the bathroom had become an odyssey. Thirty minutes later, I gave up the effort of shuttling between the bathroom and the couch altogether and retired to bed. That was an adventure.
The difference between the surgery I had at 15 wiring up my jaw and the surgery I had at 26 removing my kidney from my abdomen is that you don’t use your jaw to move around. The jaw hurt, but it was a passive hurt. On the other hand, any sort of movement last nigh made me remember vividly that my stomach had just recently been cut open. Unfortunately, a fact I never knew as a healthy person was that traveling from the couch to the bed involves a plethora of fun little movements. First, there’s sitting up. To accomplish the transition from reclining to sitting , I relied as much as possible on levering my chest by the strength of my upper arms and spinning my torso limply around them. The squashed position into which this twists my left abdomen sends a nice overture of pain to my brain to introduce me to the concerto to follow. Despite my best limb-using effots, there’s some special moment where it becomes clear that sitting will require me to actually compress and bend the muscles of my abdomen of my own volition. This can resemble only the feelings of a fox caught in a trap when she realizes that if she wants to leave, she’s going to have to gnaw off her own leg. The muscles of my abdomen are cut up, inflamed, and generally angry with me for forcing them to undergo surgery for no reason; they loudly resist each effort of my body to lift itself.
Once I make it up to a seated position, I pause for a slight moment to savor the “Oww, that really hurt” forced through my nervous system by my abdomen on behalf of my missing kidney. Then I stand up, which is really a crapshoot. Sometimes it’s suprisingly easy – press down with my hands, knees pull straight, my center following meekly along. Other times the abdomen feels the need to exert itself on the way up, stabbing at the left side of my brain with painful static for a moment as I recollect myself. After this, walking is relatively easy. I accomplish it sort of limping. Imagine if your bad knee started at your left shoulder and you’ll get the idea.
Then there’s getting into bed (I won’t describe the whole bathroom situation because that’s painful in just an anticlimactic way). You never realize how many muscles and movement are awkwardly choreographed into the descent into bed until they are all hurting you. There are a few different elements of the bed-move with which the post-surgical ought to concern themselves: first, there’s getting onto the bed itself. You don’t step downwards onto a bed, you have to bring your leg up and onto it, throw yourself down on it like a hefty pillow and then wriggle your body up, or fall backwards like a vaulter over the high jump. All of these approaches have their selling points under the circumstances, and I tried variants on each. In any event once you do get yourself onto the bed, there usually involves some sort of turning process, which would have been less painful for me had I been rotating on a spit instead of of on my own accord. Once these two basic procedures (stepping and turning) have been executed, the real fun begins: the gymnastics competition of hunting for a resting position painless enough to make the attempt to fall asleep any more than agonizing farce.
At first, I tried laying neutrally on the middle of my back, using pillows to incline me to a thirty degree angle. This setup (and the morphine drip) had worked for me the night before. Unfortunately, last night my left side had decided that it wanted to be shorter than my right. Putting my weight flat on my back conflicted with that desire: my left side showed me that by trying to rip its way out of my body along the site of my incision (which was now starting to send to my brain a fiery incision-shaped line of pain whenever I moved or thought about the lower left half of my body). Eventually, I, or rather my amazing caretaker (and love interest), Erin, settled on a complicated ramp of pillows that angled my body in a mild-spiral staircase-like twist, laying my right side down with my head thrown back, thus placating my left torso’s whim to be shorter than my right while taking the weight off of the incision area. That said, for all of my harsh description of last night (which really did suck), I was able to fall (and stay) asleep very well after that point (which came around midnight), entering a fairly deep sleep for a couple of hours, waking up for about ten minutes, and then falling asleep for another few hours, repeating until I finally got out of bed at 12:30 PM today. Today’s been tougher than yesterday, but a definite improvement over last night.
I have a lot of thoughts I wanted to share about what I think caused the pain to be worse last night (combination of bloating/constipation and having tried to do a bit much yesterday) and about how it fits in with the approach to recovery that I wrote about in yesterday’s post. This post is already incredibly long, so I will hopefully get to some of these thoughts in the days ahead.
The one moral of the story I wanted to draw out and felt couldn’t wait is this: Part of the reason I’m writing these series of posts are that I hope that someday, someone considering donating their kidney will stumble across this blog and find out a bit what someone else’s experience was like. I believe very strongly that more people should donate, so I’d expect to feel conflicted in telling the parts of my story that make donation out to be more curse than blessing. Strangely, I didn’t really feel that way at all as I wrote this post. I wanted to present my experience as accurately and vividly as I had the skill to do. This comes perhaps in part from simple honesty, but I think it more stems from the fact that the pain I underwent last night didn’t really make me think any less of the decision to donate, and if I could get that across truthfully it wouldn’t pose any conflict.
I knew that pain would be a part of my surgery when I decided to donate my kidney. Part of what made me want to give my kidney was because I wanted to present a challenge for myself. Could I make into fact the idea I accepted as good in theory? Could I have the strength to go through the whole process of a rare and life-changing choice? I gave my kidney because I wanted to answer those questions myself, because I wanted to do something I found audacious and amazing. The pain hurt; it was more pain than I remember ever being in. It made me get some brief glimpse of how bad my dad’s failing knee (corrected, finally, by serious surgery) must have been for him, of how awful chronic pain must be. But there was something comforting to me about it as well, because though I wish I could have gotten off with having the miraculous recovery, I knew the pain I had last night was (a bad) part of the choice I made. When I made the choice, months ago, I was happy with it. Luckily, I still am.